For today’s entry in our chronicle of women behaving well and still making history, or behaving badly and making history we really would have been better off without, we’re back on the positive side and looking at an American First Lady, Dolley Madison. No, she did not handle her husband’s bimbo eruptions or try to hijack the health care system or turn school lunches into an abysmal shadow of what they once were (and since school lunches weren’t anything to shout about to start with that’s pretty bad). She actually did something that took guts and put her life at risk–and no, she wasn’t ducking sniper fire in Bosnia either.
Mrs. Madison of course was in Washington D.C. during the War of 1812, which involved the still-young still-kinda weak U.S.A. going up against Great Britain again. The British were more concerned about other European matters at this point to come and give their wayward colonies the sort of hindparts-kicking that they tried to dish out during the American Revolution, but one of the things they managed to do was put enough troops ashore to set fire to the nation’s capital, including the government buildings. While President James Madison was occupied elsewhere with the nation’s business (probably a lot closer to the front lines than any President has been in over a century), Dolley Madison is often credited with rescuing the original Declaration of Independence and Constitution from the flames. As with many legends this is a bit exaggerated in the retelling–the actual item she preserved was a portrait of General George Washington, but nonetheless this was a gutsy move to save a national treasure, and it’s why Dolley is one of the few First Ladies we remember to this day. Behaving very well indeed, Mrs. Madison.
Tune in next week for a less sterling example as we continue our exploration of why this bumper sticker is a pile of horsedooky.